Professor W. A. Low
If knowledge of the past can help define the future, the university’s first 125 years should provide a framework upon which to build and continue the journey toward a sesquicentennial celebration – and beyond.
The telling of these 125th anniversary stories, and much of the information used to reflect on the university’s colorful past, would not have been possible without the foundational work of former professor W.A. Low.
Born in 1916 to a sharecropping family along the Mississippi Delta, Low received his B.A. degree from Missouri’s Lincoln University and his master's and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. When he joined the University of Iowa’s faculty in 1941, Low was the first African-American with a doctorate at the predominately white institution. He also taught at Florida A&M in Tallahassee and North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
During World War II, he was an Air Corps officer, and in 1948 joined the faculty of Maryland State College, where he spent the next 18 years.
At Maryland State, Low continued his scholarly work, focusing on African-American history, particularly the history of the south and civil rights. He also immersed himself in the college’s history. His research on the institution’s evolution culminated in a manuscript, The Establishment of Maryland State College, published in 1950 as part of a broader work, The Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.
“Please don’t throw these [papers] away because you may have to finish this one day.”
- W. A. Low to William P. Hytche upon Low’s departure from Maryland State College
When he left Maryland State in 1966 to become a founding member of the history department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Low gave his manuscript and research to math professor William P. Hytche. That work would later serve as the foundation for Hytche’s 2002 book, Polishing the Diamond, A History of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Dedicated to Low, Polishing the Diamond was the first compiled history of the university.
Low taught at UMBC from 1966 to 1984. During that time, he was editor of The Journal of Negro History (1970-1974) and published his major work, The Encyclopedia of Black America, co-edited with Virgil Clift, in 1981. Low retired in 1984 and died four years later.
-- KIMBERLY CONWAY DUMPSON